Nearly Lear, A One-Woman Romp Through King Lear

I was completely charmed tonight by a theater I’d never been to before – 24th Street Theatre in the West Adams District of LA – and a one-woman version of King Lear, titled Nearly Lear, playing there for only four performances. The beautiful historic building was originally built in 1928 as a Carriage House and was the home for working horses of the grand Victorian homes in the surrounding neighborhood. Today it houses a thriving theatrical community dedicated to arts education, community outreach, and youth & family entertainment. Its innovative efforts have even been recognized nationally by Theatre Communications Group with its 2012 Peter Zeisler Award. 

Nearly Lear is Susanna Hamnett’s spirited twist on Shakespeare’s tragedy told by an adorable character who does not actually appear in Lear but brings the story to life with so much goofy energy and heartfelt conviction that you can’t wait to hear what happens next. She is Noreen, a young woman who disguises herself as a boy to interview for the position of Lear’s Fool, gets the job, and now after all is said and done, has written a play about the unfortunate happenings.

Taking some liberties with the story, the very physical 80-minute play focuses mainly on Lear and his daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, with the introduction of a crafty servant named Osmond who double deals his way to his own demise. Gloucester, too, makes an appearance. After all you can’t very well tell the story without including the scene where his eyes are plucked out, can you? What was horrific in the original, however, becomes hilarious in Hamnett and director Edith Tankus’ adaptation, creating opportunities for audience interaction and a new way to interpret the story seen through the eyes of a clown seeking to open the eyes of youths to the world of Shakespeare. And open them it does, with the magic of the imagination.

“The worst storm in all of English literature,” is playfully recreated with a simple squirt bottle filled with water and an energetic sprint through the audience. Three rolling racks hung with plain muslin move to become castle doors, a wall map, the beach, a film screen, and the recipient of a passionate kiss (comically kid-styled). There are even horses that gallop with plenty of attitude and withering looks.

Hamnett’s gift for latching onto a character’s eccentricities and playing them up for comic effect is absolutely delightful. She trained in London under Patsy Rodenburg and perfected the fine art of clowning by studying and collaborating with master clowns John Turner and Mike Kennard. As a storyteller she is extremely appealing and fun to watch, and though much of the play emphasizes the humor in the telling, it has its serious moments too. When the final ten minutes of the play arrived and the tone turned solemn, a hush came over the audience and you could hear a pin drop. And what was left was beautiful.

Nearly Lear
Four performances only:
Friday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Oct.20 at 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2:00 pm
24th STreet Theatre, West 24th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007 (at the intersection of 24th and Hoover). Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for kids under 16; $12 for students, seniors and teachers; and 24 cents for residents of the theater’s surrounding North University Park neighborhood. Secure parking is available for $5 in the lot on the southeast corner of 24th and Hoover, and street parking is also available. The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations call (213) 745-6516 or go to Rated PG – ages 7+. They even have a bilingual program. Brilliant!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cindymariejenkins
    Oct 20, 2012 @ 20:17:43

    Ellen, it was so great to meet you in person. Glad you enjoyed Nearly Lear!



  2. shakes2011
    Oct 20, 2012 @ 22:55:38

    And it was good to meet you too and see what goes on at 24th STreet Theatre. You’re doing great work over there!



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